I don’t know whether you are on ‘LinkedIn’, it purports to be a website which allows you to get in touch with others in the world of work. The idea is that everybody gets better jobs because potential employers can look at your web page and see what a wonderful person you are. There are also endorsements where co-workers can say what you’re good at.
There was a lass writing in the paper this morning who commented that she’d read some of the endorsements on her page and they’d been given by people who knew her but rarely worked with her yet wanted to be friendly and helpful. One as a joke had even praised her downhill skiing.
We’re seeing more and more of this. You can buy glowing reviews on Amazon very cheaply, I saw someone offering $10 for six, all posted from separate Amazon accounts. Companies can buy 50,000 likes for their Facebook page or a similar number of twitter followers for what amounts to little more than loose change. And don’t even get started about Trip Advisor and the stuff that goes on there!
I’ve been involved in the nitty gritty of this sort of stuff for a few years now, ever since I started writing novels. Freelance articles are easy, find editor, sell editor idea, (or have editor who knows you ask you to do something which is even better) write article, email article, bank cheque.
Now writing books is harder than freelance journalism. Write book, pour book into kindle, publish book. That’s supremely easy. The next bit, ensure that people who might like your book find it amongst the millions of others on Amazon and can buy it. That is a nightmare.
Thirty years ago being an author was entirely different. Write book, find agent, find publisher, publish book. That was the nightmare. But actually selling the book, well the professionals in the office did that, and they’ll perhaps rope you into book signings etc but by and large it wasn’t really your job.
The world continues to evolve, and I think I can say where we are at the moment.
People, by and large, no longer give too much credence to individual reviews. With books it’s often assumed that the glowing one is from your granny anyway. (Actually it’s probably from your bank manager who’s come to the conclusion it’s the only way he’ll ever live to see you keep up with the interest payments, never mind pay off the loan.)
With writers and publishers there seems to be three levels.
Indie. These are the people who write and publish their own, normally as e-books, and occasionally they’ll produce a few paperbacks, printed for them by one of the print-on-demand companies out there. In music, ‘indie bands’ are cool, but in books, indie writers are considered the pits, accused of pouring the publishing world’s slush pile into Kindle. This is nonsense. There is some rubbish, a lot of it, but there is also some really cracking stuff out there, written by people who could get publishing contracts but frankly cannot be bothered with them. Perhaps they’re people who take three years to write a book because of caring for children, parents etc. Publishers want someone who can commit to at least a book a year.
Small Publishers. Here you reach respectability. There’s a ‘real’ book as well as the e-book and when you’re here, the real world treats you as if you’ve arrived. Local newspapers are happy to interview you, you’ll find publicity easier to get. Actually you’ll work just as hard for sales as the Indie, perhaps harder, but ideally you’ll work smarter because you’ve got a publisher to guide you.
Big Six Publishers. At one time this was the goal. These people pay advances, have teams of interns with nothing better to do than to create Amazon accounts and write glowing reviews, they’ve got professional marketing people. Get here, you’ve got it made.
Except that it’s not that simple any more.
The big six give every appearance of having lost the plot and of not being sure what goes on any more.
Because publishing a book costs them so much, they’re far more risk adverse than the Small publishers who do everything on a shoe string.
What it means is they try to build on success. So you’ll probably find they’ve got a lot of authors writing about sparkly vampires attending public schools for children with magical gifts. Or they’ve got people labouring away writing erotic fiction about bondage and millionaires.
So if you’re looking for something interesting, not just the same old thing, then you could well be better going straight to the Small Publishers and the Indie writers.
Things will doubtless continue to evolve. They always do. The reader who wants the best should look more widely. Don’t bother with the top ten, or even the top hundred on the Amazon charts. These charts aren’t about quality, they’re about sales and given the amount of good stuff that never gets seen, sales are a poor guideline.
But best of all, don’t bother with charts of any sort, find writers whose work you like and follow them, go by word of mouth, find out what friends and others whose opinion you respect are talking about.
Read what you like. If it’s a ‘classic’ and you didn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t a classic; it was a waste of time. There are too many great books out there to waste time reading those ‘you ought to read’.